It’s been 14 years since War Child released their first compilation album and, sadly, their work is even more important in 2009. Heroes is the fifth album released in aid of the charity which provides assistance to children in areas of conflict and post-conflict. Considering the amount of war-torn districts across the world, their work remains vital.
As well as the noble aspects of the charity involved, War Child’s albums have always managed to sound like pretty decent records in their own right. The last couple of albums have concentrated on cover versions, with this year’s twist being that various legends of the music business chose their own track and selected an artist of their choice to reinterpret it.
The results are, predictably enough, a mixture of the great, the average and the bloody awful. It also provides an interesting insight into the mind of the original artists, with the obvious (Bruce Springsteen choosing The Hold Steady) and not so obvious (who’d have thought Paul McCartney would have been a fan of Duffy – then again, he’s got form with young blondes…).
It’s a decent gimmick to use, especially with seemingly every compilation album post-Live Lounge being saturated with cover versions. The most successful tracks here are, as is usually the case with covers, the numbers where the bands concerned have attempted to do something a bit different with the song.
So, we have Peaches turning Iggy & The Stooges‘ Search And Destroy into a brilliantly scuzzy grimy electro-rock anthem, Scissor Sisters raving up Roxy Music‘s Do The Strand, while Hot Chip manage to sound both simultaneously terrifying and mournfully sad on their reworking of Joy Division‘s Transmission.
Some of the more faithful covers also work superbly. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were probably born to cover Sheena Is A Punk Rocker by The Ramones and do so with aplomb here, while Elbow are the perfect band to recreate the quiet majesty of U2‘s Running To Stand Still. In fact, Guy Garvey and company probably come closest here to making the song chosen for them their own.
Other songs don’t fare as well. The Kooks do a perfunctory run through The Kinks‘ Victoria and are inevitably overshadowed by The Fall‘s mighty cover a few years ago. Estelle, rather surprisingly, does the seemingly impossible and robs all the joy and life from Stevie Wonder‘s classic Superstition in her rather flat rendition. Duffy‘s Live And Let Die is even worse, reinventing Macca’s Bond theme as some kind of lounge ballad while demonstrating some very odd vocal diction.
It’s churlish to complain too much though, especially when your money is going towards such a good cause, and the majority of the tracks are excellent. Lily Allen, for instance, breathes new life into The Clash‘s Straight To Hell, helped by Mick Jones himself on guitar and backing vocals. The Hold Steady are also a notable highlight, transforming Springsteen’s Atlantic City from a stripped down ballad into a full band version that the E Street themselves would be proud of.
The idea of an album filled with the biggest stars in the music world coming together for a good cause may not as unusual as it was 14 years ago – indeed, Heroes has the ill-fortune to be released on the same day as 4AD’s similarly star-studded Dark Was The Night compilation. Yet the worthiness of the cause and the exclusive nature of much of the material here makes this another essential War Child release.